Solway Coastwise

Solway Coastwise is now complete. It was a project that discovered coastal place names and the stories behind them.  Locals were encouraged to share the inspirational Dumfries and Galloway coastline through activities, events, electronic and printed media.

The Dumfries and Galloway coast has a wonderful variety of features, both natural and man-made. Cliffs, creeks, lighthouses and beaches contribute towards a fascinating array of names. The project found out about local traditions, environment, histories and relationships between communities and the sea.

Solway Coastwise has produced the final publication of the project WORDS & PLACES, a guide to understanding the names along the Dumfries and Galloway Coast. The project has also produced a TIDE ISLANDS & SHIFTING SANDS GUIDE to join the CAVES AND GRAVES GUIDE, that provide an introduction to some of the stories that are connected to place names and a WILDLIFE GUIDE, that identifies the creatures and plants that have inspired place names along the Dumfries and Galloway coast. A BEACH GUIDE for Scotland’s Southern Coast has information about beaches popular for a family outing as well as locations suitable for adventurous explorers and is combined with an explanation about place names and the stories behind them.

The Solway Coastwise Project aimed to give everyone in these coastal communities the opportunity to communicate their passion for their coast, bringing the cultural heritage of this fantastic landscape alive.

This innovative three year project, run by Solway Firth Partnership, facilitated the sharing of names for local places, both traditional and more modern and the oral history behind them.

In the past place names were spoken and rarely written down. The naming process allowed place names to slowly change or be replaced by new, more relevant names whilst others seemed to persist in the oral tradition. A changing language, often driven by new people settling in the area, influenced the names we find on the coast and the meaning has often been ‘lost in translation’. When names were written in documents they often occurred in different spellings but this all changed when Ordnance Survey maps were first published over 150 years ago.

Although languages of a Celtic origin such as Gaelic had been spoken for hundreds of years they were gradually replaced by the Scots language. By the 1840s when Ordnance Survey surveyors began to record place names Gaelic had become a long forgotten language however many names still retained their Gaelic origins but had been adapted or translated into new names. Surveyors recording names often anglicised names further amending the Scots for words more acceptable to English speakers.

The Ordnance Survey began mapping Scotland in 1843, at a scale of six inches to the mile, in order to produce clear, and accurate plans. This mapping required precise naming and it was presumed that every place had a “correct” name with a meaning that was understood and could be written down. The collection of names depended on the surveyor confirming the authenticity for each place name in the Object Name Book. Alternative names, the source of the names, a description of the feature and its location were all recorded. In some cases, translations of Scots and Gaelic names are made, although they are not always accurate. When the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey maps were published the spoken word became a written word, and by appearing on the map it became an “official” name.

The Object Name Book for the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey maps provides a very good starting point for studying how names have evolved and their likely meanings. See resource sheet 2.

The Ordnance Survey maps standardised place names in Dumfries and Galloway at a time when names were often a Scots phonological adaptation of an earlier Gaelic place name or a Scots translation of the Gaelic meaning.

For example at the Mull of Galloway the rocks in the foreground of the image are named on the 1st edition OS map Inchshalloch  – derived from the Gaelic inis sionnach meaning island of the fox. At almost the same location is a place called Foxes Rattle –  meaning a stoney place where foxes live where the use of rattle is a local Scots word meaning a pile of stones.

The names that we give to places help us describe a location to other people. In this way they help us find our way in both the physical and legendary landscape. Along the west coast of the Rhins almost every rock appears to have a name providing a shorthand way of describing a location and a key to unlocking the cultural history of places.

Ardwell Bay on the western shore of the South Rhins has a beautiful sandy beach and with the help of a map is a great place to explore the place names of the nearby rugged shore.

Castle Point is a headland to the south of the bay where the remains of an ancient castle lie under a heap of stone. Doon Castle was a broch like structure where Doon is derived from the Gaelic for Castle. The adjacent gully is known as Slunk of Doon.

Base Hole describes a natural shaft linking the cliff top and the beach below south of Ardwell Bay. The feature is known locally as ‘Bull Hole’ after an unfortunate incident involving a bull falling down the shaft. Take care on the cliffs!

Mary Wilson’s Slunk  is the site of a wreck. In the Rhins the word slunk is used to describe a gully on a rocky shore.  Many ships have been wrecked and most have been forgotten but the Mary Wilson is remembered though a place name.

Stinking Bight is a bight is a shallow indent in the coastline north of Ardwell Bay. The seaweed washed up in this location has resulted in a name that identifies the place through its smell rather than how it looks.

Sheep Hank is no longer marked on the OS map this small cave is located midway between the larger Red Cave and Black Cave. Caves and the people who made them their home are usually long forgotten but  Sheep Hank or Sheeps’ Rink Co’, a niche in the rocks is remembered as the residence of William Purves. In  the late 1800s former clown and strongman he retired to his seaside home where he undertook odd jobs and sold picture postcards of himself.

Partan Point is no longer shown on OS maps. Partan Point is located on a tidal rock called Red Isle. One of many place names inspired by wildlife partan is a Scots word for crab suggesting that this location is a notable location for crab fishing.

Saltpans is a name that identifies one of several salt works on the Rhins coast. Salt was made from seawater from medieval times until the early 1800s when reduced import taxes meant better quality salt could be imported cheaply from other countries.

Back Bay or Back Lag, Monreith on the western shore of the Machars has both spectacular cliffs and a sandy beach. At low tide is an amazing place to seek out secret bays and small caves to discover the tales behind place names.

The Lag is a low lying promontory now used as a golf course. Derived from the Gaelic lag meaning a hollow or in this case a dip between the cliffs.

Although not named on maps, oral tradition provides us with the name Butcher’s Cave. The source of the names is clear when you enter the caves with walls streaked with blood red algae.

A small headland at Back Bay is marked on old maps as Benbuie where ben means hill and buie is a corruption of the Gaelic buidhe meaning yellow and refers to the orange lichens growing above the black band of tar lichen that grows on the splash zone.

Local tradition tells us Callies Port is named the favourite haunt of a smuggler called Callie. A more likely explanation is that it is derived from the Gaelic caladh meaning safe landing place with Port added after the original meaning had been lost.

The cliffs are peppered with so many caves it is not easy to identify those with a name. Garrerie’s Cave is believed to have been the hideout for the Laird of Garrerie who was a Covenanter during religious persecutions in the 1600s.

Shown on maps as Sheep Cave, this cave is known by locals as Johnny Logie’s after the man who lived there. He lived a life of solitude for 35 years until the early 1960s.

The popular path on the cliffs near Auchencairn provide fantastic views over Balcary Bay and the tidal Hestan Isle.

Balcary is derived from the Gaelic baile meaning settlement and cairidhean meaning fishtrap. There is evidence of ancient fishtraps and traditional stake nets have recently been closed down to protect salmon stocks.

Fish Green is not marked on maps but is instead a place name that is held in the oral tradition. It identifies a flat grassy area on the shore where fishermen stored there equipment and nets were  dipped in hot tar to preserve them against sea water.

West of the bay is Balcary Heughs where heugh is a Scots word describing a steep bank or cliff overhanging the sea. The Door of the Heugh is probably derived from the Gaelic doire identifying a wooded cliff.

Adam’s Chair is a small stone pillar on the cliff where tradition has it a smuggler sat to signal to incoming boats. While there are no records to establish who Adam was there is no doubt that this was an important area for smugglers.

Lot’s Wife is the name given to this sea stack and another nearby. The name refers to the biblical story where Lot’s wife is turned into a pillar of salt.

In the low lying land of the inner Solway there are not as many features to name as the rugged coastline further west. Waterfootmarks the place the River Annan joins the sea.

Gowkesk Rig is marked on the tidal flats and probably means the sandbank that creates a false channel of the Esk. Gowk is a Scots for cuckoo but also means to deceive, the Esk, a nearby river and Rig, a ridge.

The Altar Stone is a boulder on the sands that has been a boundary marker since medieval times. The stone marks the parish and burgh boundary as well as defining fishing rights.

Whan Scar is one of many named reefs littered with stones and exposed a low tide. Scar is a word derived from the Old Norse sker meaning rock in the sea. Other scars include Brewing ScarRough Scar and Howgarth Scar.

Seafield a name derived from the flat grass lands on the edge of the Solway. Adjacent to it is Whinnyrig which describes a low ridge where whin (scots for gorse) grows.

Annan Rig or Sand Rig are names held in the oral tradition for a sandbank on the Annan shore. In the past stake nets were erected to catch salmon and each net was given a name. The stakes of The Snab remain although the nets are no longer in use.

The Merse is derived from a Scots word that describes alluvial land by a river or estuary. Along the shore of the Solway merse is used as a generic word describing grazed grass land that is flooded by the sea on big tides.

In the merse and sand flats of the Solway tidal creeks are a common feature. These small inlets often shift with the tides and remain unnamed but those associated with streams are often named after the nearest farm.

A Coordinator and Assistant helped individuals, communities and businesses to get involved in the project.  As well as this, training to become ambassadors was made available through a range of workshops, talks, visits and resources.

Funding for this project was provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Scottish Government and the European Union – LEADER 2014-2020 programme and Dumfries & Galloway Council.

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Contact Details:

The Solway Coastwise Project staff are now working on other SFP projects but if you have any queries contact:

Phone: (01387) 702161